'Queer Eye' gets improved visibility tonight

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (9 p.m., NBC) phenomenon continues. Tonight, the comedy makeover show, developed for basic cable, airs in the coveted "ER" time slot. Think about it: here's a show made on a cheap budget, starring five guys you never heard of before four weeks ago, standing in for one of the most expensive dramas in the history of the medium. That says a lot about the future of television, and the probable end to the endless escalation of star salaries and other expenses. We've already seen ABC force "The Practice" to slash its budget and its cast. If a basic-cable show can replace "ER," then all bets are off.

The cast of "Queer Eye" -- Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez -- also appear with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC), along with Kevin Costner and music by Live.

Given all the hype, what does the success of "Queer Eye" say about mainstream attitudes towards gay characters? Does this portend acceptance, or merely new, amusing stereotypes? Despite their mock superhero status, the Fab Five are glorified domestics hired to pick up after someone who has gone his whole adult life without thinking much about cleaning, grooming, dressing or socializing. Their job is to work like mad to help a straight man succeed in spite of himself. And, on top of that, they've got to be witty and charming, too.

Meanwhile, on a full-hour repeat episode of "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC), Will flips out about Grace's impetuous marriage to Leo. He's not upset about her choice of groom, he just wanted the chance to plan her ceremony and fuss about her big day.

To find less subservient gay characters, you'll have to watch the relatively buzz-free "Amazing Race 4" (7 p.m., CBS). As fans of the show know, Chip and Reichen are not only gay, they're married. And, unlike the Fab Five, they are not funny, finicky fellas who seem to exist only to serve and amuse straight people. These guys are out to win. They are now the clear heavies of the series after last week's episode, when they cheated and the beloved clowns were eliminated. Chip and Reichen's emergence as strong competitors, and even villains, may say more about audience acceptance of gay characters than "Queer Eye."

Tonight's other highlights

Late night

Demi Moore and Verbena appear on a repeat "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS).